Wednesday, July 22, 2009


It's Debby this morning, and I’ve been thinking about Vicki’s and Rick’s comments on creating characters. Let’s see...born or made. Given those two choices, I have to say born. They certainly aren’t built brick by brick. But they often spring into scenes perfectly formed, which is different than arriving as a baby. But like children, they arrive with inherent characteristics.

For me, writing a new character is similar to meeting someone new. I encounter (as opposed to create) them at some important point in a story. For example, in real life I began doggie obedience school not long ago. (Yes, I’m taking the dog with me) Naturally, I met a couple of new acquaintances, people with whom I share a common doggie bond. Week by week, I learned more about them. Some are heart warming and generous. But not everyone. One woman has a lovely big black Labrador, much like my silly pup, which she hangs from its chain collar when it disobeys. It requires both arms for her to hoist the 80 pound animal, and the poor dog chokes and coughs while its feet barely brush the ground. In case you were wondering, the instructor encourages this “discipline.” When the dog’s tongue is just about blue, the owner smiles at the rest of us with a touch of smugness, because her dog is going to outshine ours on graduation day.

These two may end up in a book, where one of them (both?) will be a strangling victim. Which brings me to another thought: every time I’ve picked someone from real life, someone too malignant, brilliant, kind, Fill-in-the-Blank to allow to escape from the page, the character goes and changes into someone I hadn’t expected. This is even more likely to happen if I’ve got them in my literary gun sights. Strangling victims, indeed. We’ll see.

One time, I decided to kill off a good friend’s ex-husband. He was the villain of the novel, and his philandering and cruel deeds would be revealed to the world. I relished writing his demise, which would come about in an epic show-down with the ex-wife. It was good vs. evil, her life and her child’s versus the abuser’s. Naturally the wife and child would prevail.

However, the night she was going to retrieve her son from the creep’s clutches, the ex fell asleep on the couch, lit cigarette in hand. The son escaped the burning house from his bedroom window and ran to the neighbors to call the fire department. When the mother finally showed up, she was in time to see a fireman carrying her unconscious ex to a waiting ambulance.

Wait, hold the scene! This guy deserved his fiery fate! And the mother had earned her confrontation and triumph. But the kid did, too, and he was both smart and quick. He also loved his dad. I hadn’t figured on that. The kid taught both the mother and me a lesson.

Which is when writing gets fun, isn’t it?


Vicki Delany said...

The instructor approved of that method of 'dicipline'? I'd say change classes.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Yeah, I lost my enthusiasm at that. Dog obedience class leads to some very strange human behavior.

Vicki Delany said...

Sadly, I lost my dog last night. 13 year old Shenzi was hit by a car. I think she was killed instantly. I had to take a flashlight and go out looking for her, because I live in the country there are no streetlights.